From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Temporal range: Miocene – recent
Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides.jpg
Scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Tribe: Lampropeltini
Genus: Lampropeltis
Fitzinger, 1843

Ablabes, Anguis, Bellophis, Calamaria, Coronella, Herpetodryas, Natrix, Ophibolus, Osceola, Phibolus, Pseudelaps, Zacholus[2]

Kingsnakes are colubrid New World members of the genus Lampropeltis, which includes milk snakes and four other species. Among these, about 45 subspecies are recognized. They are non-venomous snakes and are ophiophagous in diet.


Lampropeltis includes the Greek words for "shiny shield":[3] λαμπρός lampro(s) ("shiny") + πέλτη pelt(ē) ("peltē shield") + -is (a Latin suffix).

The name is given to them in reference to their smooth, enamel-like dorsal scales.[4]

The "king" in the common name (as with the king cobra) refers to its preying on other snakes.[5]

Range and morphology[edit]

Kingsnake species inhabit the Americas from southeastern Canada to southern Ecuador. Several species vary widely in size and coloration. Adult scarlet kingsnakes are typically 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) in length, while the common kingsnake can grow to 1.8 m (6 ft). Some kingsnakes are colored in muted browns to black, while others are brightly marked in white, reds, yellows, grays, and lavenders that form rings, longitudinal stripes, speckles, and saddle-shaped bands.[6]

Behavior and diet[edit]

Kingsnakes use constriction to kill their prey and tend to be opportunistic in their diet; they eat other snakes (ophiophagy), including venomous snakes. Kingsnakes also eat lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs.[7] The common kingsnake is known to be immune to the venom of other snakes and does eat rattlesnakes, but it is not necessarily immune to the venom of snakes from different localities.[7]

Kingsnakes such as the California kingsnake can exert twice as much constriction force relative to body size as rat snakes and pythons. Scientists believe such strong coils may be an adaptation to snake and other reptile prey, which can sustain lower blood-oxygen levels before asphyxiating.[8]


Most kingsnakes have quite vibrant patterns on their skins. Some species, such as the scarlet kingsnake, Mexican milk snake, and red milk snake, have coloration and patterning that can cause them to be confused with the highly venomous coral snakes.

One of the mnemonic rhymes to help people distinguish between coral snakes and their nonvenomous lookalikes in the United States is "red on black, a friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow". Other variations include "red on yellow kill a fellow, red on black venom lack",[9][10] and referencing the order of traffic lights "yellow, red, stop!" All these mnemonics apply only to the three species of coral snakes native to the southern United States: Micrurus fulvius (the eastern or common coral snake), Micrurus tener (the Texas coral snake), and Micruroides euryxanthus (the Arizona coral snake). Coral snakes found in other parts of the world can have distinctly different patterns, such as having red bands touching black bands, having only pink and blue bands, or having no bands at all.


Taxonomic reclassification of the kingsnakes is an ongoing process and different sources often disagree, one source granting full species status to a group of these snakes that another source considers a subspecies group. In the case of Lampropeltis catalinensis, for example, only a single specimen exists, so classification is not necessarily finite. In addition, hybridization between species with overlapping geographic ranges is not uncommon, confusing taxonomists further.


Kingsnakes are often preyed upon by large vertebrates, such as birds of prey. Tarantulas also sometimes prey on them.[11]

List of kingsnake species and subspecies[edit]

Mole kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata)
California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)
Eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula)
Speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis holbrooki)

Kingsnake species and subspecies include (listed here alphabetically by specific and subspecific name):[12]

Additionally, Pyron and Burbrink have argued that the short-tailed snake (Stilosoma extenuatum) (Brown, 1890) should be included in Lampropeltis.[13]


  1. ^ "Fossilworks: Lampropeltis".
  2. ^ Wright, A. H., and A. A. Wright. (1957). Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Comstock. Ithaca and London. 1,105 pp. (in 2 volumes) (Genus Lampropeltis, p. 330.)
  3. ^ "Lampropeltis". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  4. ^ Tennant, Alan (2006). Lone Star Field Guide to Texas Snakes. Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 193. ISBN 978-1-4616-3564-2. the smooth dorsal scales have an enamel-like surface to which the genus' Latin name, Lampropeltis, or "shining skin shield," refers.
  5. ^ "King snake vs Rattlesnake Oro Valley Az". 2015-12-12.
  6. ^ Powell, Robert; Conant, Roger; Collins, Joseph T. (2016). Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 375–381. ISBN 978-0544662-490.
  7. ^ a b Conant, R. (1975). A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 429 pp.
    ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Genus Lampropeltis, p. 201.)
  8. ^ "Snake Kills Bigger Snakes with World's Most Powerful Squeeze". 2017-03-15.
  9. ^ Life's Better Outdoors, South Carolina Department of natural resources Archived 2015-06-30 at the Wayback Machine (see FAQ's. -- "are there any visual clues"). Retrieved July 15, 2015
  10. ^ Medical-Surgical Nursing: Patient-Centered Collaborative Care   by Donna D. Ignatavicius, M. Linda Workman   (pages 141-142)
  11. ^
  12. ^ Genus Lampropeltis at The Reptile Database
  13. ^ Pyron, R. Alexander; Frank T. Burbrink. (2009). "Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52(#2):524-529.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hubbs, Brian (2009). Common Kingsnakes: A Natural History of Lampropeltis getula. Tricolor Books, Tempe, Arizona

External links[edit]